The Fountain Theatre
Historic movie house thrives in southern New Mexico
By Elaine Kaufmann
Do your summer plans include hitting the back roads of New Mexico to unearth some of the funky, out-of-the-way treasures our state has to offer?
Well then, Albuquerque, you need to pick a weekend, hop in your car and swing on down to Mesilla, N.M., (attached at the hip to Las Cruces) to plant your flag on the historic Fountain Theatre.
Mesilla itself is located approximately 225 miles south of Albuquerque, straight down I-25. The tiny town (pop. 2,200) has much to offer, from real Mexican food to shopping to a day spa to the Blue Teal wine-tasting room (conveniently located next to the Fountain Theatre) to vendors with jewelry and foodstuffs. The cool place to be, though, (and by cool we mean air-conditioned) is the Fountain at movie time.
According to its website (www.fountaintheatre.org), the Fountain Theatre is the oldest movie house in New Mexico. Built in 1905 by the Fountain family, it started out staging cinema and vaudeville performances. It has the distinction of being the only continuously operating movie theater in the state and now caters to those seeking an alternative, independent and foreign film experience.
When you enter the Fountain, a greeter at a table will take your ticket money. You can choose either a red velvet-covered auditorium seat or sit at one of a dozen tables in the back where you can enjoy reasonably priced refreshments. If you are there early, you may be treated to a visiting musician playing a Native American flute or a band of mariachis providing before-show entertainment. Take the opportunity while the lights are up to sit back and check out the amazing mural that covers the interior adobe walls. Cracked and crumbly in spots, this original mural depicts westward wagons, the nearby Organ Mountains and other desert scenes.
The Mesilla Valley Film Society is the nonprofit all-volunteer organization that presents movies at the Fountain. It was started in 1989 by Lisa Diener and Monica Torres. Founding board member Connie Kallman recalls that the gala opening was a potluck dinner and presentation of the sumptuous Danish film Babette’s Feast. Back then, films had to be hand-delivered from Albuquerque, and the then-unanchored seats meant one filmgoer shifting position caused all of the audience to move.
The vision of those early days lives on and, according to Jeff Berg, board member and secretary, the current board actively seeks out movie reviews and film festival news about the best choices to bring to the Fountain Theatre. Recent selections have included In Cold Blood, Transamerica, Grizzly Man and The Squid and the Whale. “Almost Midnight” movies play once a month featuring classic cult fare such as Better Off Dead and Pink Flamingos. The Film Society has also created thematic, mini film festivals like “Peliculas de la Frontera,” which addresses border issues in a day-long, three-film documentary montage. It is not unusual to find that a film director is making a special appearance (as happened with Shortcut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela) or that a question-and-answer session is set up with a performer (as recently happened with a dancer from Ballet Russes).
Also worth mentioning to the Las Cruces-bound film buff crowd is the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum Saturday matinee. Jeff Berg (previously mentioned as a Mesilla Valley Film Society Board member) is the volunteer director for this program. Three Saturdays a month, the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum presents a movie with a “New Mexico connection.” Recent screenings have included Cowboy del Amor and a documentary titled The Civil War in New Mexico. Once a month, a movie is presented that does not fall into that category; for example, Winged Migration and Nosferatu. On occasion, the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum introduces a film with a discussion by an expert on the topic of the movie--an ornithologist prior to Winged Migration, or a discussion by a university professor about the “spaghetti Western” genre of film prior to A Fistful of Dollars.
The Fountain Theatre is located at 2469 Calle de Guadalupe, just off the plaza in Mesilla. Screening times are Friday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Admission is $6, $5 for the matinee, $4 for seniors, students with identification and members.
The Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is located at 4100 Dripping Springs Road in Las Cruces. Screenings are at 1:30 p.m. and are included in the museum’s $3 admission fee.
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